Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A message to the Tigers

You need a change of tactics. These attacks on civilians like the bomb in the train on Monday are quite insane, inhuman and will not further your cause. If you want to claim to be the sole representatives of the Tamils, a claim that is far from accepted, at least try to act the part and behave with responsibility. A terrorist is loved by no one and the tactics of terror only provide cover for the harsh repression of civilians.

Denying responsibility for the various atrocities or maintaining a silence will not work, you have little credibility and your words will be doubted, even if by some possibility you were not actually responsible for the crimes committed.

If you must fight, fight the soldier on the battlefield, not the civilian in the town or village, but remember the maxim that all wars are political. A war for the sake of war or a war of attrition serves no one.

Better still, return to talks. That is what the people wanted and would have voted for had they been given the opportunity in 2005.

Some lines from Ibn Qutayba

A senior British officer serving in Afghanistan is reported to have quoted these lines from the ninth-century Muslim scholar Ibn Qutayba:

There can be no government without an army
No army without money
No money without prosperity
And no prosperity without justice and good administration.

This was in response to questions on how to tackle the insurgency. The enlightened may draw some lessons from this.

Central Bank staff get 60% wage hike?

According the latest rumours doing the rounds this morning the Central Bank has granted its staff a 60% increase in salaries - due to high inflation!

We may surmise that the official inflation rate is understated and that perhaps even worse is to follow.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


I was reading the Sunday Newspapers, a depressing exercise in this fast failing state of ours, and decided to read a few blogs to see if there was anything more interesting, or at least less depressing, to read.

Fortunately there was, Cerno a man who I think of as a bit of cartographer (he has lots of interesting stuff on travels routes, maps, google earth images and travel linked photography) had written something on ABBA.

That got me going and ended up writing a long comment on his blog.

Now people of a certain age may remember a song called Ramaya. This is a really super song and it is one of the earliest pieces of music that I can remember hearing. It was an enormous hit in Sri Lanka and for some reason we assumed it was some kind of local song, although we were never sure of the language. In later years, long after the song's popularity had ended, the few who remembered the song thought it was a Malay or Indian song. Only recently did I discover that its origins are African: Mozambique to be precise and it was performed by Afric Simone.

Listening to the song on Youtube brings back a few memories. As an adult it is also possible to appreciate that the song is something of a classic and the benefit of Youtube allows us to enjoy the superb showmanship of Simone. Indeed one can watch the clip purely for the showmanship. He is superbly fit and I've never seen anyone or anything move quite the way he does. See it here

There is a another long concert (about 20 minutes) here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Brief trip to the North East

Spent the long weekend in Anuradhapura and Tricomalee. I am usually involved in planning most trips but this particular one was organised by a friend and I just tagged along.

To begin with I was a reluctant participant. When he sent an email around suggesting a trip to Trinco I did not reply. I am a fairly cautious man and I don't take unnecessary risks. Most people say that Trinco is safe, there is only a small risk but but I suggested that we go down south instead.

Anyway after checking with various friends I decided that it was safe enough to go and I'm glad I did.

The journey itself was a bit of a mess. We keep only only one road map in the house and my brother had taken that for a trip he was going on and since none of the friends I was traveling with owned a map we were map-less for the journey. One chap owned a GPS but due to the security situation decided to leave that at home, along with the bigger camera lenses.

The start was late so one car containing myself and a couple of friends who were on time went ahead, with vague directions to meet at Jaela and turn off. We we making fair time and reached Jaela early, could not locate a turnoff so decided to go through Puttalam. The run to Puttalam was uneventful but after the turnoff to Anuradhapura at the town the road deterioratde steadily. Reached Anuradhapura at 8am, a drive of three hours.

While waiting for the second car to join us, visited the Tissa Weva Resthouse, a nice colonial building set back from the road with a lot of greenery surrounding it. The rooms have been done up a la Bawa and were clean and nice. Rates by the way were Rs.4950 for twin sharing B & B.

When the second car caught up, went to where we were supposed to stay, the Nuwara Weva Resthouse which was not in great shape. The plaque at the entrance proclaimed that it had been opened in 1957 by SWRD. The building was quite hideous, built in a style that I imagine was supposed to be futuristic and ultra modern in 1957. The rooms were comfortable and clean the, food fairly good and the price (some Rs.3800 for half board twin sharing) was reasonable but the atmosphere was lousy.

The colonial masters knew a thing or two about siting a resthouse and the majority, especially upcountry occupy very scenic spots. This factor combined with the charm of the building and the simple but cheerful traditional cooking make these places some of my favourite getaways. Unfortunately not a lot of it was true of the Nuwara Weva Resthouse with its dark and dreary public areas.

Then came the second mistake. We had decided to go to Habarana for lunch and not having looked at the map, assumed it was fairly close by. Only when driving did we discover just how far it was, and to make matters worse, we used a road that was shorter (but only by half a kilometre we later found out) but greatly worse than the main road for about a third of the distance. Got back to Anuradhapura using the normal road by about 4pm had some tea and visited the Jetawana Dagoba which was very impressive.

I saw Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa in 1992 but this was with a large group and we went around the sites in the morning and early afternoon. The baking heat and the dust of the place not to mention the crowd soon robs one of much of the initial enthusiasm. This time around visiting in the late afternoon, it was beautiful. Peaceful, quiet, bathed in soft sunlight the first glimpse of the majestic Jetwana Dagoba is very impressive.

The usual problem with Sri Lankan sites prevailed - a lack of information except for one small engraved plate with part of the writing obscured at the entrance. Made a note to read a bit about the ruined cities of Ceylon, does any one have a book that might be recommended ?

The next day we left at 6.15am to Trincomalee, after a couple of navigational mishaps reached Nilaweli Beach Hotel by about 11.20 in the morning. The beach is as every bit as good as the people say it is. Wide, clean (but not pristine:there was a small amount of litter) with a very white sands. The sea was not very deep, allowing wading quite far from the shore. Food was good but the range was a little limited given that the hotel, although full, was catering to a fairly small number of visitors, almost all from Colombo.

The real adventure started when we left. We were given a form by the hotel that needed to be filled and given at a checkpoint. Details included NIC nos, car engine and chassis nos and contents of baggage.

One vehicle was stopped at a checkpoint and the vehicle and ID cards examined. A few hundred yards away, around a bend was another checkpoint. When we, who had been stopped at the first checkpoint arrived we found our friends stopped at the secopnd one, but since we wer'nt stopped we drove on. After about 20-25 minutes, with no sign of our friends we turned back, since it was impossible to contact them - the mobile netword was dead in the area. It turns out the checkpoint we shot past was the one where we had to give our form in. When we came and asked to give the form in we were sent back to the very first checkpoint to get a chit from the officer there.

The driver then had to stand in two queues, I think one was to register the passengers, the other to register the car. Original car registration books or certified copies were required. After about 40 minutes we were given a document in triplicate called a Permit to Leave Trincomalee.

An hour or so later we were stopped at another checkpoint and directed to a building on the right that looked and felt exactly like the passport control section of an airport. Our bags were taken out and searched while the car was sent for examination to another area. The driver has to take it up a ramp and they check it there. Fifteen minutes later we were on our way back to Colombo.

The drive to Colombo was a nightmare beyond Habarana, it was like playing dodgem cars with hand tractors, bicycles, motorcycles, three wheelers and a great mass of humanity, a good part of it drunk, out celebrating Vesak.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Explosion in Fort

There was a loud explosion a little after noon today in Fort. People passing by have seen smoke and flames erupting close to the temple opposite the Hilton.

Some others say it looks like its coming from the railway track below.

Probably a bomb.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

10 things that make me happy

Ok got tagged by Lady Divine so I'll try to follow her lead and see if I can come up with ten things that make me happy.

1. Music
The right kind of music can really grip my imagination. I seem to be spending increasing amounts of time searching youtube for music. My latest infatuation was with Paul Simon's African inspired music, which I blogged about earlier. I must have viewed those clips a dozen times and the sheer enjoyment and enthusiasm that the African musicians display at the Graceland concert is really infectious. I tried drumming once in London at an open air workshop and I could not stop. The rhythm of African music really gets into one, so. Like to sing as well although I'm not very good at it. Meaning to go for some voice training but never seem to get around to it.

2. Stimulating reading matter
Something that teases the mind, deals with a knotty problem or asks an interesting question. Gives me something to play with. Currently reading John Man's book on Genghis Khan. Very well written and a joy to read.

3. Documentaries, especially on history.
This is more laziness than anything else. Used to love watching documentaries when I was growing up. Any old documentary, on science, on nature on anything really. Now my interests have narrowed a bit, nature is not as interesting and science so-so, but history is now a big thing. History on the cheap, really. No need to wrestle with weighty tomes, just sit back and watch. The pictures make it so much easier and I guess its easier to listen than to read, passive rather than active. Spent a lot of money buying a few DVD's that no longer seem to work.

4. History
I have always been fascinated by the past. I don't know why. My grandfather used to teach it and perhaps its in the blood. I certainly did'nt pick it up from him - he died when I was ten, but the past always fascinates. To those who do not understand its relevance I like to point out that it helps to put the present in perceptive. The problems we wrestle with today are not new, they are the same old things that mankind has always battled, albeit sometimes in a new guise.

5. Gyms
This is a bit of a love-hate relationship. I seem to spend most of my free time in the gym although I never seem to get any results. Its a really cheap form of entertainment I guess and it does keep my cholesterol under control but when things go right it can feel really good. When you get into the right training zone, when your focus is right, when you are working just the right muscle to maximum and nothing else it really feels good. When you are out of the zone then it can be a misery aching joints and strained muscles but I seem to be getting back in- after the effects of that stupid flu.

6. Pretty Girls
What could be more alluring, what can lift the spirit more effectively than a beautiful women? Never get anywhere with 'em of course but a joy to behold when sighted.

7. Elegant wristwatches
They hold a spell over me, but not as much as they used to.

8. Travel
Like to travel, to see, to learn, to experience other cultures and other people. Closely linked to my interest in history. When friends invite me to visit the US I tell them no. The new world has little to offer by way of history and its too far anyway. I went to Australia and it held only a limited interest. Naturally we are always on the lookout for any pretty girls who may be lurking (there are usually plenty), purely from an academic point of view of course.

9. Good food and (10) good conversation. Nothing like spending an evening with a few interesting people over good food, perhaps a little wine and have an intelligent conversation. It is a sad thing to say but it is almost impossible to have a decent conversation in Colombo these days - too many interesting people have left the country. When I mentioned this to a friend recently he told me if I wanted to talk about anything other than cricket or women I had better go elsewhere. I have to rely on Skype now to catch with people but its not quite the same.

Hey Divine, you really got me talking did'nt you?

I have the pleasure of tagging;

Paan Waati (she can repond when she returns)
Shoat Statements

Sunday, May 11, 2008

O give me a home....

Lanka Libertarian or Sittingnut, dubbed Mahinda Rajapakse 'Mahinda Buffalo' during the Presidential election campaign of 2005, something that I found very amusing.

After reading his posts over the last couple of years and particularly his most recent ones, I was not quite certain what to make of them. Finally light dawned when I was reminded of an old nursery rhyme, the first verse of which goes like this:

Home on the Range

Oh, give me a home
Where the buffalo roam,
Where the deer and the antelope play;
Where seldom is heard
A discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day

Home, home on the range
Where the deer and the antelope play
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day.

Perhaps we should adopt it as the new National Anthem?

Provincial Council Elections and related issues

The election for the Eastern Provincial Council has been concluded.

I have long taken a dim view of these Provincial Councils: all they do is add another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy to an already inefficient administrative system. If anyone knows what value the provincial councils add to the public let me know. As far as I can see they are little more than vehicles for the lining of the pockets of corrupt politicians. In my opinion we should abolish the damned provincial councils, simplify the administrative work and distribute the remaining administrative powers between the centre and the municipalities of the towns and villages concerned, with resultant savings in administrative costs and the cost of running elections. If anyone has figures for the cost of the election, please let me know.

On the subject of the election itself, The Sunday Observer reported that "No major incidents were reported by the three Returning Officers of the three districts except for unconfirmed allegations levelled by two anti-government election monitoring organisations. But the main opposition UNP has made several unsubstantiated allegations of vote rigging."

From the tone of the writing it appears that only people questioning things are the opposition who don't matter and anti-government monitoring bodies who matter still less. One monitoring body has endorsed the election and is officially seen to be independent.

The report goes on to state that "The LTTE had resorted to various terror acts to intimidate and keep voters away from polling booths".

So the LTTE appears to be active again in the East. We are left to wonder if they re-infiltrated the cleared areas or whether they were actually cleared out as thoroughly as previously claimed.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Beautiful old films on Ceylon

A friend of mine sent me a a really charming old film on Ceylon. It is a travel documentary and was made in 1931. A quick search revealed a couple more. You can view them at the links below.

Charming Ceylon 1931

Tropical Ceylon 1932

1960s cine home movie featuring Ceylon and Singapore

Also a montage of old postcards on Ceylon is available here

Youtube never ceases to amaze.

Another old film that I have been looking for is Basil Wright's Song of Ceylon, made in 1934 for the Ceylon Tea Marketing Board. Interestingly the narrator is Lionel Wendt. At one time it was considered to one of the top ten greatest films ever.

Details (but unfortunately no clips) of the film are available here and here.

If anyone else knowns where to find old films on Ceylon please let me know.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Foreign observers at the Eastern Province elections

I was glancing through the newspapers last week and noticed an article which mentioned that foreign observers would be invited to monitor the upcoming elections in the Eastern province.

On the face of it, this seems to affirm some commitment by the Government to holding free elections. In the light of the disaster that was the invitation to the IIGEP, it seemed a bold step.

A closer look at the countries from which the monitors were to be drawn reveals a fairly motly collection. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Taiwan, Indonesia and a handful of others. The actual newspaper is not in my possession and I can't seem to find the story on the web, so I don't have the full list of countries.

Bangladesh is still under military rule, Pakistan is still in transition from military rule to civilian rule, Afghanistan is still in a very shaky stage of its first experiment with democracy, Taiwan a full democracy but with almost no official recognition as a state (and thus with minimal political influence).

In other words, a set of monitors who are likely to be, how shall we put it, understanding of the governments position? Rather like the African Union monitors who have endorsed many an election Zimbabwe.

Perhaps the Government has not been so bone-headed after all, perhaps they have drawn some rather useful lessons from the experience of the IIGEP.

In the meantime, the Defence Secretary has criticised the media yet again and has apparently demanded that restrictions be tightened on reporting. Most reporters have taken heed of the Governments outbursts in the past and have already toned things down, something that the The Sunday Times columnist was already complaining about here.

Of course, many people, burdened with the high cost of living have little time to worry about a minor provincial election. Should they be? I guess not, just so long as some of these seemingly unconnected events are not a dress-rehearsal for other, bigger things to come.

Does anyone play golf at Waters Edge?

I was going past Waters Edge yesterday and happened to notice that the green seemed to be filled with water. I was looking at the course from the main Kotte/Parliament road. The areas that were not filled with water seemed to be overgrown, with parts of it looking more like scrub jungle than a golfing green.

Just curious to know if people actually play any golf there. The club house, restaurant and gym seem to have a fair bit of business but is all activity indoors?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Death of a suspect

Buried deep in the inner pages of the Nation newspaper's Sunday edition is a disquieting story: the suspect in the Jeyaraj Fernandopulle assassination has died in police custody.

According to the newspaper the CID has ruled out foul play in the death of the suspect Nadarajah Raji.

Rather like Solomon Grundy, she took ill three days after she was arrested and died at the National Hospital. According to the CID they believe she had hidden a cyanide capsule in a 'private part of her body'. She had been searched thoroughly on arrest and received no visitors during her detention.

The postmortem claimed that she died of cyanide poising. How the cyanide was administered is not known nor were there any details as to further observations on the condition of the suspect.

Now this is rather strange. The whole purpose behind the Tigers introducing the cyanide capsule was to prevent its agents from falling into custody and revealing secrets. The Tigers were supposed to swallow the capsule immediately on capture, not wait three days after to decide to wake up and swallow the capsule. Even assuming that the absent minded Tiger forgot to take his capsule on time, how does she manage to take it when under observation?

All very mysterious but foul play has now been firmly ruled out and the matter looks to be swept under the carpet. One more brutal little incident in a brutish little corner of the world.

Did I say brutish? Sorry I meant culmination of the most pristine civilisation, 2500 years of it, no less.